Embracing Longer Life with Love and Planning

Advances in healthcare and personal wellness have prolonged the life expectancy of our generation beyond all those preceding us. The majority knows that we should plan for retirement and for what should happen when we die. Frighteningly few, however, are prepared for the “longevity bonus” we will experience. We get more years on earth, but we won’t live them the same way we do today.

The years we spend in our 80s and 90s can either be something we look forward to or something we will “endure.” Simply put, the life you experience will be the one you plan for. If you think it will be good, you can plan for it and make it a great time of life. In contrast, if you dread what the future holds and fail to plan, odds are you will not enjoy “elderhood.”

Having just walked my husband through a serious illness and recovery, I know what a gift it will be to live a long life. I pray that I don’t treat being old like anything other than the precious treasure it is. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to enjoy the experience of each stage of life, including the one with wrinkles.

Perhaps as we find a way to embrace this new part of our journey, we will make having a long life a great experience. Selfishly, I am working to improve the pathway before I get there. If everyone involved with the long-term care system puts enough love and effort into it, I know there can be a different outcome. My heart breaks every time I pass a lonely face lined up against the wall in a nursing facility. How did they arrive at this point? We do not have to accept this as our inevitable fate.

If the current system wasn’t so expensive, complicated, and impersonal, we might not have to plan. However, at this point, we are forced to make sure our own situation is well managed in order to succeed. Failing to plan now forces our children or [worse yet] the long-term care system to make decisions for us.

Through planning, we can eliminate many of the fears that surround our shared future. I can help change the way we embrace and experience our old age. Working together, we can create an elderhood that looks like something each of us will happily embrace in our own, unique way.

This is a paraphrased excerpt from Laurie Menzies’s book, “Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.” Click here to read more about how Laurie can help you or someone you love prepare for aging issues.

Find Your Golden Buddha

What is more important: having money left over when you die, or knowing that your life meant something?

I meet with people every day to discuss their money and how to best preserve their assets. Many of us spend our careers focusing on people’s money. Most people do not have a plan to use all of their money during their lives. Many die with a lot left over.

My question is whether or not the time and effort spent on the pursuit and preservation of money will have been worth it at the end of our lives. Society tells us to value money, so we think it will have meaning at the end.

The question can be asked: How much time do we spend on activities that will not satisfy us in the end? Perhaps we are going to the apple orchard to satisfy our hunger for an orange.

What do my clients say they regret most at the end of their lives?

They regret not having lived for themselves.

They regret not doing the things that were in their heart.

The regret not singing their own song. That may be where their true wealth exists. But it won’t show up on their monthly statement.

Do you know about the “Golden Buddha”?

The Golden Buddha was covered with layers of “stuff,” so no one could see that he was made of gold. I don’t know if he even remembered that he was gold underneath, because no one recognized him.

We are all Golden Buddhas.

Our gold is inside, but we spend our lives pretending that we are all of the things we have covered ourselves with: our money, our career, our youthful bodies.

At the end of our lives, perhaps for the first time, the “stuff” we have covered ourselves with may be taken away. First, we are no longer defined by our occupation. Then, we may no longer be a husband or a wife. Our body may be failing.

Why wait until the end of our lives to realize that our real wealth is inside?

When I think about looking back at my life,

When I can no longer change the way it turned out,

I don’t want to ask for a do-over, because I was searching for a fool’s gold all along.

Why I Don’t Hope to Die at 75

Let’s have the debate.

Recently, I saw this image and found that it rang true in my heart.

Then I read an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in The Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” It left me speechless. While I don’t want to give the content additional acknowledgement, I also don’t want to give an unfair and oversimplified summation of the article, so you can read it for yourself by clicking here.

According to the author, living too long is a loss. “It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, (and) the world.” He writes, “We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” His antiseptic analysis concludes that a deadline of 75 would force each of us to ask “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.”

His contentions wouldn’t bother me so much if he weren’t the director of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. His ethics contribute to our national debate.

Who gets to decide what constitutes the contribution of a life? And what kind of heart remembers those who die later in life as ineffectual or pathetic?

My parents will never know how much they contributed to my capacity for love by allowing me to care for them in their last years. In my opinion, we deny ourselves our greatest lessons by trying to avoid the parts of life that are difficult. This is when we learn to love each other best. And I believe that is a contribution our society sorely needs.

Who will speak up for the sweetest parts of what it means to be human? I will. I fear for a world led by people who think without feeling. That is the only excuse I can offer for the views of elderhood offered by Dr. Emanuel. He thinks a lot.

In my practice as an elder law attorney, I meet with families every day who are struggling to manage the myriad details related to the aging of their loved ones. I have yet to meet a family who would rather not have their loved one to care for.

Ironically, or maybe it’s perfect timing, I have just published my new book “Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.” It is a practical guidebook written by this grateful daughter who has just walked her parents through the end of their lives. It includes a lot of things families don’t even know they need to know about planning for aging relatives.

The book began as a guide to help families (like mine) who need to know how to arrange the practical aspects of aging like finance and legal documents, and the potential need to access care services. However, as I wrote the book, I found that the most important parts about my walk with my own parents had nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of their living into old age. I had to write about the emotional and spiritual growth that I experienced as I helped them. That is only one of many contributions my parents made by staying with me into their nineties and letting me love them, no matter how pathetic others may find that gift.

I think I’ll invite Dr. Emanuel to the book launch party!

Why Should We “Embrace Elderhood?”

Everyone knows we are living longer.

Currently “active adulthood” can extend well into our seventies and even later. We are taking better care of ourselves and medical advances indicate that the time we spend in elderhood can still be a time of contribution and fulfillment. However, once we enter into our eighth or ninth decade, our lives will necessarily look and feel different.

What will become of us when the wrinkle cream and Viagra don’t work anymore? Given the statistics, many of us will live long enough to find out. How will we ensure that this time will be spent in some meaningful way—that we can still give something back and maybe even learn to relax enough to appreciate life for itself? As I learned from my recent personal experience of walking both parents through the end of their lives, the less time you have, the more precious it becomes.

Not many of us take an active role in planning for this time of life. We may be forced to slow down or receive assistance. After living an entire life of contributing and planning for other life events, most of us will experience this time by default. We leave it up to our children or other loved ones to negotiate the complicated legal, financial and healthcare challenges that are likely to occur at this time.

Maybe we can open the discussion about planning for the stage of life we will experience after adulthood, making it a time we can look forward to rather than fear. I have spent the last fifteen years as an elder law attorney, helping families plan for and receive the care they need in the best and most cost-effective ways. I can tell you that getting the right information sooner avoids many mistakes and missed opportunities.

My parents were lucky—they had a daughter who does this for a living. But your parents may need some expert advice, too. Through this blog and in my book, “Embracing Elderhood,” I shed some light on the planning process that your family can undertake to make this stage of life as wonderful as every other stage of life has been.

Perhaps we can find a way to look forward to the end of the constant pressures of adulthood, to a time in our lives when our individual wisdom and understanding can take over. It might just be the most rewarding time of our lives, a time when we can finally discover and explore what is important to us. We can do this if we have a plan in place to handle the difficult legal, financial and care questions that will arise. I can help with that and hope you are interested in finding out more. Please feel free to email me at laurie@lauriemenzies.com.